Ad Victoriam Solutions: Jeff Jones

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CEO Jeff Jones shares the challenges he faced when deciding to not just found Ad Victoriam Solutions, but pursue a B Corp certification.

Danny:

– Well, hello and welcome to the IndustrialSage Executive Series. Today I am joined by the CEO of Ad Victoriam Solutions, Mr. Jeff Jones. Jeff, thank you so much for joining me today on the IndustrialSage Executive Series.

Jeff:

– Great to be here.

Danny:

– I am excited to jump into this. So I’ve been familiar with your company and you for a little bit, for a couple of years now. I’m excited that we have you on the show. But for those who are not familiar with Ad Victoriam Solutions, or as I understand, you guys can also go by Ad Vic or just Ad Victoriam, for those who aren’t familiar, just give me the high-level of who you guys are, what you guys do.

Jeff:

– Sure, so we are technology consultants, in a nutshell. We’re in the business of digital transformation which is I guess a bit of a buzzword these days. Essentially we work with a variety of businesses and industries. Salesforce is our technology of choice, our partner that we work with. When people have decided to move forward with Salesforce or if they’re curious as to whether they should and how it would impact them, we come in and make that magic happen from there. We understand their business. We get to understand what their business is, what makes them different. And then we use technology to apply and enhance their business so that they run seamlessly and more optimized.

Danny:

– Excellent. Yeah, well, digital transformation is certainly a big buzzword in the industry for sure, and Salesforce is—when it comes to CRM, sales-enablement, they’re certainly the leading horse there. So I’m excited to jump into that a little bit more as we get down into the episode. For now, I’d like to know a little bit more about Jeff. I want to know your story, your background. How did you get into this space? Take me back. Where does this story begin?

Jeff:

– Let’s see; how far do you want to go back? I will tell you what I normally tell people. I went to UGA, had an undergraduate in—

Danny:

– Go Dawgs. I like it. We’re starting off right; okay.

Jeff:

– And in the mid-90s, way back then, I worked for a medical manufacturer for capital equipment for hospitals and was in sales for them. Had a territory, Georgia and Tennessee, and was very much in sales. Then there was this amazing technology that came out to the mid, late 90s— you may have heard of it— called the internet. It became a land rush. Everybody drove into that space. I went back and did an MBA at State. At the time they were the only one that had a night program that you could go do. I focused on technology and came out and worked for Ernst & Young for seven years doing coding, programming, relational databases, enterprise systems. Got done with that and joined a company, a boutique consulting company. It was Microsoft, that was my technology of choice at the time in consulting.

That’s where my sales and my technology world collided. I would take customers that were originally 50,000. Next thing you know, they’re spending half a million, a million bucks with us on the things that we were doing for them and having a lot of success on that. I helped grow that company upwards to about, I think they were probably 10 people when I joined, and well, almost 100 when I chose to leave and was president of that company and had decided that Salesforce was real. They had moved beyond just CRM at the time. They were really moving into entire business line of applications. And so that’s when I decided to found Ad Victoriam back in 2014. You always think you can do it better. When you watch others run a business, you’re like, “Why don’t you do this? Why don’t you do that?” And then you start a business, and you realize why people make some of the decisions that they made during that time. But that was the journey that got me there. Sales, business background, then coupled with technology has been very successful because bridging those two, it’s not easy.

Danny:

– No, absolutely. When you were at UGA, what were you studying?

Jeff:

– I did international business at the time.

Danny:

– Okay.

Jeff:

– Yeah, it was great. I worked in Germany for a couple of summers for a beer distributor.

Danny:

– Oh, nice.

Jeff:

– Yeah, that was a great job when you’re in college, but not in the long-term. Not a long-term viable. Yeah, so that’s…

Danny:

– No, that’s great. I’m curious. You got into coding and whatnot. That’s a bit of a jump from international business. How did that happen?

Jeff:

– Well, I tell people if you go into technology, you have to be a problem-solver. You can’t be frustrated with the technology. It’s a bit of a puzzle, and for full transparency, my wife who also went to Georgia was an MIS major, and she was already in technology. I found myself liking the things that she was doing more than the things that I was doing. She had started out as a developer as well. Like I mentioned, when the internet first came out, everybody was picking it up, learning about it, and it was fairly basic in how you went about it in those days. I just enjoyed the problem-solving aspects of technology, still do. I miss being near the code sometimes. I’m not saying I want to go back, but there are aspects about it that I miss, the trying to solve things, the banging your head on the wall for a little bit and then the Eureka coming in and having it work successfully.

Danny:

– Yeah, absolutely. So it sounds like—and I was curious because you hear these stories all the time. You’re going to college. I’m going down this way, and then there’s an inflection point. Something changes, and you say, hey—It sounds like, with your now-wife—I’m presuming you guys were dating at the time—that was the inflection point. You discovered what she was doing, like this is kind of cool. I like this stuff. And then took that passion and followed that trajectory. Is that more or less accurate?

Jeff:

– Yeah, that’s a fair assessment. For me, I look back and— by the way, if you’ve never been to the computer history museum down in Roswell, you should get down and check that out. We just took our team out to it. And I bring that up because as I look back, there was a time where only nerds and people you kept in the back room worked with computers. I could be wrong, but I think in the 90s, that changed a bit where more and more people could get into it, and the internet made that available where it was a little more ubiquitous. Everybody could get into it, and they understood why and how they went about it. As you talk about an inflection point, I think that was for me where that came together because I always found it interesting, but I also had people skills that I wanted to get out and do those things too. My mind came together at that time.

Danny:

– Yeah, so talking about that, inflection points and changes, is there somebody that you can recall or maybe a specific event that maybe has triggered that lightbulb moment, or someone that throughout your career has really made a massive impact and has helped you to get you to where you are today?

Jeff:

– To say that there’s only one would probably be not fair.

Danny:

– Sure, of course.

Jeff:

– Back on my journey, I’ve been very fortunate to have a number of people who helped guide you or give you advice along the way. I mentored under somebody when I was in sales. I got to work with them and carry a territory and work very closely with that individual. I worked for a private company, so you could do things that you can’t do at publics. He was sick with cancer and couldn’t get around, so we’ll just put two people together, and y’all go figure it out. And so I was very fortunate to learn from that experience. A lot of the stuff that he had done in sales over the years, I picked up on that. Then when I got into technology, I had a good friend of mine. Still a good friend of mine; he’s an ex-Navy Seal.

So he was really good to work under. He was my boss, but in the technology space, and how to approach problems and problem-solving that he had learned when he was in the military about, write down the complexity. Bring it down into its component parts. Bring it back together. And how to think about certain problems and so forth. Definitively along the way, there’s always others that give you an opportunity if you’re willing to listen to them. It’s why I’m always trying to find people that we can mentor or help. It’s probably one of the more rewarding things, as you grow a business, that you can bring others in and watch them grow and build their own careers and, ideally, not step on the same land mines that you stepped on along the way. They’re like kids, too; sometimes you can’t tell them. They’re going to figure it out for themselves.

Danny:

– That’s a really good point. So where do you think this entrepreneurial spirit that you have, where do you think that came from?

Jeff:

– My mom says I’ve always had it. I don’t recall. She tells the story; I’m like, “I don’t remember it that way, but okay. I’ll take your word for it.” To be honest with you, I don’t know where it came from. There is a certain amount. I’ve been in consulting for a long time. Consulting’s—one of the best parts of that is you get to work with a lot of different industries, a lot of different people, and you’re constantly making recommendations in how to do things better and how they should be done. Maybe at some point it was like I had that same desire where, at the company I worked for, I loved the owner there, but there were things that I felt needed to be done that weren’t being done. And so it was like, “Well then, let’s go do it.” Here is an opportunity to go do it, and that’s where that came from.

Danny:

– What did that look like for you specifically? Walk me through that moment when you said—because there’s obviously a difference between “Oh, yeah, we should do things differently,” and yada yada yada to actually doing it, to actually taking that step to say, in your mind, “This isn’t just crazy talk in the back of my head. I’m actually going to take action on this and do it, and I’m going to say goodbye.” What was that moment for you? What did that look like?

Jeff:

– I made the argument before, and now I can say it’s true that if you go and start your own business, you have to be crazy.

Danny:

– I would agree with that, yeah.

Jeff:

– There is something not right with you to go do that because if you… especially when you’re creating something from nothing. I had risen to, I was president of the company that I was with at the time, that consulting company, the Microsoft shop. So when I decided to do this, and it was actually my wife who spurred me to do it because she was like, “I’m tired of hearing you talk about doing something. Either do it, or stop talking about it.” Which is great because she’s my support for everything and the impetus that pushes me. At the time, because I was president, I could not go build something and step away. A lot of people talk about—

Danny:

– A side hustle or something.

Jeff:

– Right, ethically I was not going to do that. One day I walk in, and I’m like, “I’m done,” which was a bit of a shock, good position and all of that, and then just walk away from it. I also tell the story, the person who joined me, his name is Brian Mize, when starting the company. I was the sales guy; he was the technical guy. He had been a customer at one point in time, so we had been friends for several years. I’m like, “I’m going to do this; come with me. We will go do this.” And finally he agreed, and he said, “Okay, I’m in, but you’re quitting your job first.” So I had to go quit my job, and then he’s like, “Oh, okay, this is real,” and go do it. And I tell people it’s crazy because we started the company in May from nothing and by December of that year we had sold a total of $1700.

Danny:

– Are you sure you’re not missing some zeros there?

Jeff:

– Yeah right, exactly. You start to question yourself, like what have I done here? This seemed brilliant months ago. There’s a level of determination and will that goes into it and recognize that as you’re doing certain things, they are foundational, and they do not make an immediate return on what you’re doing. And you build on that because then our second full year of 2015, we hit seven figures.

Danny:

– Wow.

Jeff:

– So you build on it from there. There’s relationships; there’s things about the business. There’s hiring and things of that nature that you just have to get done. We’re kind of hell-bent on doing it our way. So far, so good.

Danny:

– That’s awesome. I know I could go on probably for another two hours on that, that’s for sure, alone because I’m fascinated by these stories, and I think it’s really cool. Pivoting to today, I’ll ask this first, and then I’ll move into another question. What are the primary challenges that you’re solving today for companies?

Jeff:

– It can be industry-specific. I know that you guys like to talk a little bit about manufacturing and so forth.

Danny:

– A little bit, yeah.

Jeff:

– A lot of what we’re seeing over there is a big investment in the B2B commerce where you’re not, you can sell directly to who you want to because when everything got locked down during Covid, and you’re dependent on people who are normally in the field writing up orders and things of that nature, and now that is not an option for you, that’s pretty damn scary. So we’re seeing a lot of investment on that. We do a lot of commerce in general. We break our business up into a lot of product sweeps, but commerce is the leading horse. And so we’re just seeing a lot of investment in that in particular. That ability to go to market digitally and seamlessly is what we’re seeing a lot of. Plus tying in a lot of your back-end systems where you’re not as dependent on manual intervention.

You mentioned earlier; I find it funny people say Salesforce, and the first thing they think is CRM because that’s their lead horse. I make fun of them sometimes because that’s their ticker symbol, too, CRM which is fantastic, but they are so much more than that now. They’ve painted this symbol. They have a service offering. They have a commerce offering. They have what’s called CPQ for order-taking portals through their experience. They have a very broad offering for full back-end systems. A lot of what we’re doing is now bringing all of those offerings together for companies so it works seamlessly versus you have eight different vendors that you’re always trying to work with and wiring those systems together, which is doable. There’s some systems that you just have to interface with. But now you can put it all on a single platform and reduce the complexities involved and make things more seamless.

Danny:

– Yeah, absolutely; that makes sense. They’ve certainly made a significant amount of changes and acquisitions over the years. I remember when they bought Pardot in Atlanta which I think—was it ExactTarget bought them first and then—

Jeff:

– The big fish eats the small fish, then a bigger fish comes along.

Danny:

– Exactly.

Jeff:

– ExactTarget got Pardot because Pardot’s a B2B marketing automation, and ExactTarget was a B2C, so they had the full portfolio for marketing automation. Therefore when Salesforce bought them, it was a one-stop shop.

Danny:

– Yeah, exactly. No, it just seems to be the theme for a while. One of the things that I wanted to talk to you about that I thought was interesting, because to be 100% honest with you, I had not heard about this before, and that was about this concept of B Corps. I had met some people on your team, and they were telling me about it. Maybe I had come across it once or twice before, but I didn’t have the full explanation. So I just thought that was a very interesting concept. For those who are unfamiliar like myself prior, what exactly is a B Corp, and how are you guys involved with that? What does that look like?

Jeff:

– Yeah, so B Corp can be confusing because, as a business, we are still an LLC. B Corp is not a—there is a B corporation which is, you’re structured a certain way. But B Corp as itself is really just an accreditation that you can go and get. We like to talk about business for good or a force for good. We aligned with B Corp early on because we wanted a series of guard rails to help guide us and keep us focused on a lot of the reasons we started the business which is taking care of our employees, taking care of our customers, being considerate of the environment. Believe it or not, back in ’14 those were—I don’t want to say they were radical, but people didn’t talk about that as much at the time. And so we went ahead and worked on the accreditation. We got some help from the University of Georgia and their graduate program and made some great hires out of it to boot. But we used it to help us understand things that we wanted to do, so it got us much quicker in how we do our benefits. When we started rolling out benefits, how we went about it, we covered 100% of the employees’ benefits, health, dental, vision, and things like that. As a small business, that was a hard decision to make because it is very expensive. But based on the values we wanted to grow and live by those were decisions that helped drive that.

How we do things as it relates to the environment, our suppliers which, as a consulting company we don’t have a lot of suppliers. Our main value is in people. But what we ended up doing is we put in volunteer time, so every employee has 40 hours a year that they can take off for volunteer work. It’s not vacation. If you want to go work for a charitable organization, we make that available for you. For us, B Corp was a way to make sure that we’re always focused or on the core of, as we talked about, wanting to do it better. Because if you’re growing a business, it’s easy to lose focus of that because what are you thinking; you’re like revenue, growth. Where’s the next thing coming from? How are we delivering? This was something that we could also use to make sure that we were always still focusing on those other things. So I encourage people to look into B Corp. And what I tell them is, even if you don’t go through the full accreditation because it is very rigorous, there’s a lot that’s in there that you can pull from and put in your toolbelt to help your organization overall.

Danny:

– So excellent. If I were to boil it down, it’s almost like a sense of rubrics or—maybe ideals is a weak word, but just in terms of helping to shape the culture by putting some very actionable items into it. Say hey, we value employees. We value the environment and having specific programs around that.

Jeff:

– Yeah, right. So it’s a way to ensure you back up what you say. Like, hey, we’re into diversity. Well, there’s a whole section in there where you have to say, and here’s how we’re approaching diversity, and here’s how our team is made up within diversity. And here are the offerings that we also make available for people when we say we are diverse. Or, we care about the environment. Okay, well these are the programs that we have in place for recycling. Here’s how we make sure that if we are a supplier that we source our materials and our supply chain from people that are small businesses that also care about the environment and things of that nature. We care about our employees. Alright, well explain what you’re doing around that versus just, hey, that’s a great marketing slogan. Why don’t we throw that on our website too? That is where B Corp brings it all together to make sure that folks are actually living and adhering to the things that they say that they care about.

Danny:

– Yeah, it’s excellent. How long did it take to go through that whole accreditation process?

Jeff:

– For us, it took almost two years because we knew nothing about it, and we were getting help through the university to get through it. I think people can get through it faster now, but it really depends. Nathan Stuck from our team who is our director of culture and somebody that we hired out of Georgia for helping us still works with other companies to help them get through it. I think we see some people get through it in six months, but a year because you have to go and change things, and you have to do a lot of documentation around and stuff like that. Like I say, it’s pretty rigorous. I don’t know if I answered your question. It took us two years.

Danny:

– Yeah, I was just curious. You mentioned that it was rigorous, and after understanding there was different programs and the changes, that stuff takes time. It’s not going to happen overnight. Just curious about that. So for those companies that are interested in learning a little bit more, I’m assuming there’s a website or something, you can go check that out.

Jeff:

BCorporation.net or—I believe…

Danny:

– So we’ll figure out what that is and put that in the—assuming it’s going to be B Corp something.

Jeff:

– There you go.

Danny:

– No, it’s very cool. So you guys started that, you mentioned—When you started the company, was that part of the, was that one of the early initiatives?

Jeff:

– Day one, my wife and I knew in particular that we wanted to do something like, all the things I talked about there were important to us, but it was still rather abstract at the time.

Danny:

– Okay, yeah.

Jeff:

– Full transparency, I was doing some research and noticed a competitor. I was like, “Hey, what’s that?” And I looked; I’m like, “I like that.” That sounds pretty cool. That’s where… we picked it up from there because there’s only one other in the space. As you’re growing—at least, as we were growing—you always look at somebody, and you’re like, “I want to be like that guy,” like the one step up. And so I was doing some research and found one. That’s how we stumbled across it. It’s been very beneficial for us, especially as we’ve grown, from a culture perspective. When people join our company, they know who we are which makes our hires a little more targeted, which is good.

Danny:

– Yeah, that makes a lot of sense and like you mentioned, helps to put those guard rails up there to align your mission, your objective. You were mentioning with hiring, you know what you’re getting yourself into a little bit more, and so people can identify, say, “Oh, I like this; this is great. Not only am I getting a paycheck. The motivation as we’re seeing has shifted more into purpose and more into passion. I like what I’m doing, but I’m also—if I can align all those things, then that makes a lot of sense.

Jeff:

– It is; it helps a lot. And it’s interesting. Our team’s all over the US. The nucleus is in the Atlanta area, but that’s probably 50%. The rest, we’ve got people in Hawaii and Montana. We have these little pockets. We have a pocket in Indianapolis, and they wanted to do a volunteer event. So we flew some folks up from Atlanta, and they all got together and did a weekend volunteer event. It’s fantastic. Again, it drives the culture, gets everybody—especially with so many people remote, it’s an opportunity to come together and do something.

Danny:

– Yeah, absolutely. No, I love it. That’s awesome. Like I said, we’ll definitely put the link in the show notes and on the video so people can take a look at that if they’re interested. Jeff, listen, I have really, really, really enjoyed our conversation, and I don’t lie when I say we definitely could probably go another two hours just talking about entrepreneurship, B Corp, let alone all the technology disruption that’s going on and the transformation in and around the manufacturing space, outside, above, and below. But thank you so much for your time and sharing your story with us, with our audience, sharing about B Corps. I think a lot of people are going to like what they hear.

Jeff:

– Fantastic. I appreciate your having me on, and hopefully it was moderately interesting and helpful.

Danny:

– Oh, definitely. For those who would love to learn more about you guys as well, advictoriamsolutions.com or advic.com. Either of those work; is that correct?

Jeff:

– Yeah, both of those are just fine.

Danny:

– Cool, so yeah, if you’re interested, you can check that out. Thanks again, Jeff. I really appreciate it.

Jeff:

– Appreciate it.

Danny:

– Alright, well there you go. That wraps up today’s IndustrialSage Executive Series interview with Jeff Jones, the CEO of Ad Victoriam Solutions. You can check them out at advic.com or advictoriamsolutions.com. And also if you’re interested in learning more about B Corp, you can learn about those as well. We’ll have the link in the show notes or on the video player. Somewhere around here we’ll give you access to that.

Thanks for watching or listening, if you’re on the podcast. If you are not subscribed, I highly recommend you jump on our email list there and subscribe so you can get all these great interviews and insights and different programs that we’ve got coming out on IndustrialSage. That’s all I got for you today. I’m Danny Gonzales. Thanks for watching, and I’ll be back next time with another episode on the Executive Series.

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